A roof rack is a great way of adding real estate to the roof of your Ford Transit, Sprinter, or ProMaster 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 are modular (adapt to any roof layout), low profile (aerodynamic), and fairly priced. We didn’t install a roof rack on our first van conversion, but we’re definitely adding one to our new Transit! We found the best option to be the Flatline Van Co. Low Pro roof rack; keep reading to learn why and how to install it.
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1. Roof Rack or Not?
1.1. No Roof Rack: Our Solution
We personally decided against a roof rack when we built our Ford Transit van in 2016 because we didn’t really see the point for our needs and there was, at the time, no elegant affordable options. Let’s see how we managed that:
We attached our solar panels 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 attached our Fiamma awning directly to the van (we had to drill into the van and that’s definitely a permanent thing):
To access the roof, we carry a portable, telescoping ladder (Amazon). The ladder is stored inside our garage and we have to set it up each time we need to access the roof:
Do we have any regrets of going with no roof rack on our first campervan back in 2016? Well, let’s see the pros and cons of a roof rack first!
1.2. Roof Rack Benefits
We’re all about functionality. If we’re to install a roof rack, we must be able to justify the cost, weight, extra height, and time it takes to install. Let’s see the benefits of adding a roof rack:
Easier and safer to install accessories to the roof (roof fan, solar panels, awning, etc.). Less chance of damaging the roof and better work surface during the install process. No need to drill the van (permanent) for the awning install.
Easier access to the roof with the permanent side ladder to clean the solar panels from dust (occasionally), snow removal (frequently in winter), or just to hang out.
Terrasse With a View
Possibility of adding a terrasse, to hang out and check out the view!
1.3. So, No Roof Rack, Any Regrets?
Fast forward years later, the solar panels, the roof fan, and the awning are still holding strong. No issues here. However, considering the benefits above, and considering there are now some really cool roof rack options on the market, we’re definitely going WITH a roof rack this time. Keep reading!
1.4. DIYvan Roof Rack Kit: An Alternative We Also Considered
We also considered DIYvan’s 80/20 roof rack kit as a lower cost option. Parts needed:
- Roof Rail Kit (QTY = 1): Ford Transit or Ram ProMaster.
- Front & Rear Crossbars (QTY = 2): Ford Transit and Ram ProMaster.
- Crossbars (QTY = 5): Ford Transit and Ram ProMaster.
Here is a table to compare both options (same number of crossbars) for our Ford Transit 148″ Extended:
|DIYvan Roof Rack Kit||Flatline Van Co|
|Cost||$1,907||$2,590 ($1,995 with no ladder)|
|Max Load Allowed||20lbs per landing pad (so 200lbs total for our 148″ Transit Extended)||Per BEMM (418.9lbs)|
|Look||A bit rough||More refined|
The cost saving is marginal and for a bit more we can get a ladder, so Flatline Van Co it is!
NOTE: If your goal is only to mount your solar panels, there are a few cheaper options; no need to add an entire roof rack.
2. A Roof Rack for DIY’ers: Flatline Van Co Low Pro
If you went through our Build Journal, you know we like to make everything ourselves (DIY): the only exception is for our mosquito screens and, more recently, our insulated magnetic 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 decided “go pro” for the roof rack as well. We really like the latest “Low Pro” modular roof rack that Flatline Van Co makes. It looks like a premium rack, but with a more subtle look, cost and versatility of a DIY solution:
- Transit 148″ Mid Roof
- Transit 148″ High Roof
- Transit 148″ High Roof Extended
- Sprinter 144″ Low Roof
- Sprinter 144″ High Roof
- Sprinter 170″
- ProMaster 136″
- ProMaster 159″ Regular
- ProMaster 159″ Extended
Why we like the Flatline Van Co 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.
($1,995 rack + $595 ladder)
(70 lbs rack + 25 lbs ladder)
|Roof Rack & Ladder||Flatline Van Co Low Pro with Side Ladder||FlatlineVanCo.com|
|Sikaflex-221||To seal around the landing pads (Step 3.1)||Amazon|
|Rust-Oleum||In case you need to grind clearance (Step 3.1)||Amazon|
|Mineral Spirits||To prep surfaces and clean uncured Sikaflex excess (IPA or Paint Thinner would also work as alternate)||Amazon|
|7/16″, 9/16″, 13mm Wrench or Socket||Roof Rack, Side Ladder||Amazon|
|5/32″, 7/32″ Hex Bit (or Allen Key)||Roof Rack, Fairing & Side Ladder||Included|
|Power Drill with 3/8″ Hex Socket||Side Ladder self drilling screws (step 3.6)||Amazon|
|Burr Rotary File||To grind clearance if threaded holes are offset (Step 3.1)||Amazon|
|Sandpaper||To smooth sharp edges after grinding||Amazon|
|Caulking Gun||To seal landing pads (Step 3.1)||Amazon|
|Putty Knife||To remove roof plugs and scrape sealant||Amazon|
|Shop Towels||To clean surfaces before & after||Amazon|
|Installation Manuals||PDF’s (Transit, Sprinter, ProMaster)||FlatlineVanCo.com|
3.1. Install the Landing Pads
The Ford Transit has several M8 threaded holes specifically designed to attach a roof rack (or accessories). We’re going to use these:
3.1.1. Each M8 threaded hole is protected by a plug; remove the plug to gain access to the hole and clean the sealant (the sticky black stuff) with Mineral Spirits (or a solvent of your choice such as IPA or paint thinner):
3.1.2. Because of manufacturing tolerances, some holes may be out-of-alignment. In this case, use a burr rotary file to grind clearance, smooth the edges with sandpaper, clean the area from all metal shavings, and touch-up bare metal with corrosion-resistant paint (out of 10 holes, we had to grind 1):
3.1.3. We applied a bit of sealant around the bolt cutout to create a faying-surface seal (the sealant will squeeze and expand when torquing the bolt, filling the tiny gaps and cracks):
3.1.4. Install the landing pad with the provided M8 bolt (13mm hex socket) and a sealing washer:
3.2. Install the Side Rails
3.2.1. Install the side rails using the provided hardware (1/4-20 carriage bolt, washer & nylock). At this point, leave the hardware a little loose:
3.2.2. After the side rails are in place, install the connecting brackets using the provided hardware (1/4 screw, washer & nylock). These can be tightened to their final torque right now:
3.3. Install the Cross Bars
3.3.1. Loosely install all the crossbars (except do not install the one at the front, because the fairing has to be attached to it first) via the set pair of holes or via the slots, depending on your roof layout (fan, solar panels, etc). We’re still undecided about our layout, so we simply used the set pair of holes and we’ll move the crossbar later if needed. The modularity is one of the coolest feature of these roof racks! 🙂
3.4. Install the Fairing
3.4.1. Preinstall the hardware (1/4-20 button head screw, lock washer & t-nut insert) onto the 3 center brackets and slide them into the crossbar (refer to next photo for orientation & position):
This is the center brackets orientation and position (the fairing shouldn’t be installed at this point, pretend it’s not there!):
3.4.2. For the next few steps, we got carried away and forgot to take photos… So here is what happened in chronological order:
- Slide the 3 center brackets into the T-Slot and tight the hardware to the crossbar. You can use a tape measure to locate the bracket (previous photo), or use the holes in the fairing as a guide.
- Install the gasket by pressing it onto the lower edge of the fairing (we had to spread out the lips at a few places, and we used a hammer to gently tap to press it in. GENTLY is the keyword here!). The textured surfaces of the gasket and the fairing go on the same side.
- Install the fairing to the center brackets (1/4-20 flange head screw, washer & nylock). The washer goes on the nylock side. Tight snug, but do not over-tighten to prevent damage to the plastic fairing!
- Install the side rails bracket to the fairing (1/4-20 flange head screw, washer & nylock). Tight snug.
3.4.3. Slide the fairing assembly into the roof rack and attach the crossbars to the side rails (1/4-20 flange head screws):
3.4.4. Attach the fairing to the side rails (1/4-20 flange head screws, washer & nylock):
That should be it! You can adjust the fitting as required by loosening the hardware (as most brackets are slotted to allow small adjustments).
3.5. Tighten All The Loose Hardware
Remember we left the hardware between the side rails and the landing pads a little loose (step 3.2)? It’s now time to tight them to their final torque! We started with the crossbars and then proceeded with the landing pads. And while you’re at it, make sure you didn’t let any other hardware loose 😉
3.6. Install the Side Ladder
3.6.1. Assemble the ladder upper & lower halves together using the two (2) couplers with the 1-4/20 screws:
3.6.2. Bolt the ladder to the side rail of the roof rack (leave it loose at this point):
3.6.3. Attach the mount plate to the ladder (leave it loose at this point):
3.6.4. Attach the mount plate loosely to the van, push the mount plate as high as you can, then tighten the hardware (some vans may not have the required holes, in this case use the mount plate as template to drill two 1/2″ holes):
3.6.5. Tighten the remaining ladder loose hardware (at the side rail and to the mount plate), while making sure the ladder is up and straight:
3.6.6. Install 3 or 4 self-drilling screws to the mount plate and to the structure of the van:
3.7. Final Important Step
Climb up and down the ladder 7 or 8 times, and stare at the rack for 10 to 15 minutes from all the angles. There is no good reason to do this, but we swear that’s what you’ll do anyway 😂
For 2022, Flatline Van Co finally released a roof rack for the ProMaster. Good news!
4. Lessons Learned
We’re pleasantly surprised on how the roof rack was straightforward to install! It truly is a bolt-on solution, and the instructions are clear and accurate. So not much to mention here!
5. Long Term Review
At the time of writing these lines, we installed our Flatline Van Co roof rack just a few days ago. It’s still too soon for a review! But so far, the rack feels solid and we really dig the look 🙂 Very happy with it!
Update a few months later: After getting up to highway speed (over 65 mph) a few times, we didn’t notice any noise coming from the roof rack. We honestly expected some noise, so we’re quite happy with that! The aerodynamic fairing is doing its job! 🙂
6. Impact of Roof Rack on Gas Mileage
Accessories installed outside the van will have an impact on gas mileage (larger off-road tires are no exception!). Unfortunately, because we’re in the middle of the mountains here in British Columbia, we’re not able to quantify the gas mileage we lost due to the roof rack. That’s unfortunate, it’s data we wished we had, but because of our geographic location and the nature of our driving, our gas mileage is all over the place. Any data would be insignificant.