A roof rack is a great way of adding real estate to the roof of your van! It’s also a safe and easy way to attach accessories such as solar panels, storage box, awning, etc. Fortunately, there are now aluminum roof racks designed for DIY’ers like us: these racks are versatile (adapt to any roof layout), low profile (aerodynamic), and fairly priced (so we can actually afford them!). We didn’t install a roof rack on our Ford Transit van (in 2016), but we would definitely consider it if we had to start over today. Let’s see why!
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1- Roof Rack or Not?
We personally decided against a roof rack when we built our Transit van in 2016 because we didn’t really see the point for our needs. Our solar panels are attached directly to the roof (with VHB tape); it’s simple, cheap, and low-key (you can’t really tell there are solar panels on the roof):
We managed to attach our awning directly to our Ford Transit, but that was quite complex, and we had to drill into the van:
To access the roof, we carry a portable, telescoping ladder (Amazon). The ladder is stored inside our garage (taking a little bit of our precious space) and we have to set it up each time we need to access the roof (which is a bit annoying, especially in the snow):
Fast forward 4 years of full time vanlife later, our solar panels are still holding strong, and we’re happy with our solution. But Vanlife has now gone mainstream, and there are some really interesting roof rack options available on the market… from our experience, we would probably install a roof rack if we had to start over in 2021, considering the following pros and cons:
Roof Rack Pros
Roof Rack Cons
2- A Roof Rack for DIY'ers (for Ford Transit & Sprinter vans)
If you went through our Build Journal (faroutride.com/build-journal), you know we like to make everything ourselves (DIY): the only exception is for our mosquito screens (faroutride.com/mosquito-screens) and, more recently, our window covers (faroutride.com/insulated-window-covers). Indeed, sewing is not our area of expertise, so we decided to “go pro” and splurge on quality products; the time we saved was spent building our van instead.
Similarly, we would most likely “go pro” on the roof rack as well. We’re not really fans of the “overland-style” tubular aluminum roof rack (e.g. Aluminess and such), but we really like the latest “Low Pro” modular roof rack that Flatline Van Co makes. It looks like a premium rack, but has the versatility of a DIY solution:
Ford Transit Roof Rack
Mercedes Sprinter Roof Rack
Why we like this roof rack
It's built for the DIY'ers, which means:
It’s about half price of their competitors (e.g. Aluminess or such), so it’s a roof rack we can actually afford.
The crossbars can be adjusted for an unlimited amount of options and to fit pretty much any roof layout. And they are slotted (10 series 80/20 aluminum extrusion), so it’s easy to bolt accessories to them using T-Nut hardware.
It ships (free) flat-packed in a box. It’s assembled on the roof, so it doesn’t have to be lifted with special equipment. All the brackets and hardware are included.
3- Roof Rack Installation
As you can see in the videos below, the installation is quite straigthforward:
In our humble opinion, the Flatline Van Co roof rack is the perfect compromise between DIY (versatility, price) and “pro” solution (quality feel/look, simple installation). We would definitely consider it for our next van! Hopefully they add a ProMaster roof rack to their line up in a near future (in addition to the Transit & Sprinter vans roof rack).