How to Install a Roof Rack

When I was preparing for a trip recently it dawned on me how convenient it would be if I had a roof rack on my Explorer. Instead of all the luggage in the cargo area and on the seats it sure would be a much more comfortable ride to have it all stowed on top of the car. I looked up roof rack’s on line to see what I may be getting into financially and was I shocked! A roof rack, without the special box that attaches to it, runs anywhere from $300 to they’re out of their mind. The name brands were the worst. I’d be looking at selling the car to purchase the roof rack! I decided it was out of the question.

The driver’s window had broke in the Explorer so I headed over to the local pick-n-pull to get a new one. I found the section that had the Ford Explorer and began looking for the 96’s when I noticed that almost all of the Explorers had roof racks! I walked the length of Ford Explorers available and one after another had roof racks! I thought, “There’s my roof rack!”. I can afford a roof rack from pick-n-pull easily! After I collected the drivers window I originally came for I got busy removing the finest looking roof rack in the lot. Thirty minutes later I was back at home cleaning it up. The total for it came to $35!! A far cry from the $300+ for a store bought one and it wasn’t half bad. Some soap and water and steel wool and it looked brand new.

They are easy to install, so not having directions didn’t matter at all. Here’s what I did to install it…

The basic roof rack consists of:

  • 2 Base rails
  • 2 End rails (one sliding, one stationary)
  • 4 Center support rails
Roof Rack Parts

There are screws or rivets that attach it to the vehicle roof:

  • 16 Flat head screw for center support rails (rivets work too)
  • 2 Large head screws for the ends (stops the rail from sliding out)
  • 6 For the base rails

The base rails will be set on the upraised area of the roof. There are grooves with low strips and high strips, put the base rails on the high strips in line with the back side of the front windows. To determine how far apart the base rails should be, set them on the roof, then set the end rails on top where they will be positioned upon completion and mark the roof where the base rails are at. I took a marker and slid it through the screw holes and marked the roof.

When you have the marks for the base rails use a punch to mark the center of the spot before drilling to help keep the drill bit tip in the correct spot for the hole. Drill a hole slightly smaller than the screw size you are using.

Set the base rails back on the roof and attach them with the screws. Use the large head screws on the ends. If the screws don’t go in snugly you may want to tap the hole with a tap the size of your screws first. Be careful not to over-enlarge the holes. Don’t attach the end rails at this point. They will only get in the way of screwing in the end screws (ones with the large stop screw head) and the base rails that go in between the base rails. Hold off until the last step for them.

The four support rails will set into the grooves already on the roof of your car. Once attached they will make the roof nearly level all the way across.

Set the support rails in position as you want them, then mark and drill your holes. Rivets can be used for the support rails and they work very well. Again, if you need to tap out the hole do so, but be careful not to over-enlarge the holes.

Once the support rails are attached it’s time for the end rails.

The end rails are the two rails that stand up off the roof with an L support. They attach to a box if you choose to purchase an enclosure box. Otherwise they hold your boxes and luggage from sliding off the front or back of the roof. They usually have the four attaching screws still in them. The base rails have a point at the ends where the end rails set and screw into them. They will not fit the wrong direction so if you can’t get them to set properly, turn them around or switch position with them until they set into position nicely.

Now you’re done! Your roof rack is ready to be loaded. The eyelets on each side are for strapping down your load. They can usually be adjusted by sliding them along the rail forward or back. Most roof rack manufacturers recommend no more than a 100 lb load on the roof. Distribute the items across the whole roof instead of piling it all in one area. Have a nice trip!

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