List of Contents
Why Add a Roof Rack?
Like everything in the van, we did a quite a bit of research on whether or not to add a roof rack. Before deciding on the Prime Design Alurack, we made a pros and cons lists of having a rack at all. Our pros and cons list looked like this:
- Solar panels could be mounted to the rack and moved to accommodate another panel (less holes drilled into top of van)
- Panels could move to accommodate other potential roof storage
- We could add a deck
- The deck would help to keep solar panels clean
- We could use the side rails to tie gear to the deck space
- Transits are already equipped with the holes on top to add a rack (no custom welding)
- Easier for the solar panels to be stolen
From what we saw, having a roof rack gave us more options. Since the holes to mount a roof rack come already with the Ford Transit, we would not need to add any extra holes there. Those roof holes are only covered by a thick sticker anyway!
Using the pre-existing holes for a roof rack would prevent the need to drill the solar panels straight to the roof of the van. We really did not want to do that because of the permanence of it and it had more potential for leaking. What if the panels got broken and they no longer make the same dimension panel? As solar panels have come down in price over the last several years, the ability for us to move them outweighed the desire for extra security.
If you’d like to know how we mapped out our roof rack real estate and decided we needed a rack, check out Conversion Log Entry 2. We discussed there how we picked our panels and how we decided to place our fan.
Lastly, the expense of roof racks for vans varies drastically. Ultimately, we went with the Prime Design Alurack for price and a little added stealth.
Why Choose the Prime Design Alurack Roof Rack?
This decision really came down to three factors. Factor number one was the expense. The Alurack was just under $1,000. Compared to FlatLine Van Co ($1,400) and Aluminess Roof Racks ($2,800-$3,400), the Alurack made sense. All three could be versatile and fairly light.
This brings us to factor number two: availability. With the pandemic, the Flatline Van Co and Aluminess both had the racks we needed on backorder. As this would be one of our first projects, we did not want a large lead time on delivery. Because the Prime Design Alurack is a construction rack, it was widely available despite the pandemic.
Ultimately, factor number three came to the idea that a construction rack would be slightly stealthier than the fancier ones made specifically for van lifers. Our buddy Stone bought the Prime Design Alurack for his Ford Transit and said it both worked well and did blend in with blank white construction vans more. Cheers, Stone!
Pre-Installation of the Roof Rack
A note before we begin the step-by-step instructions. First, I recommend partially setting up the rack inside before you set it up to go on the roof. Karma and I pulled it out in the living room and read all the directions (which were not totally clear, btw) and watched a few videos (also, not totally clear). However, without the pressure of having to put it together all at once, it really helped us understand the rack and how we want to use our “roof real estate” as our buddy Daniel calls it.
We loosely screwed the upper portion of the rack together on the floor. Then, we grabbed our Maxxair Fan and solar panels to play around with the design and options of where to place them. For example, while the solar panels fit widthwise with a few inches of space between the side rails, we would still get some shading from them. As the sun came in through the window, we could see where the shadow would hit. They fit better length wise because they had more space between the slightly higher side rails.
Using the floor space, we also tried placing the van in two different locations and adjusting the solar panels accordingly. We came up with a favorite layout and a second favorite layout.
Tools You Definitely Need:
- Plastic Scraper
- Rubbing alcohol/acetone
- Cotton swabs or a rag
- Allen wrench
Tools You May Need:
- Metal file
- Rustoleum the color of your van
- Heat gun
Prime Design Alurack Roof Rack Installation Instructions
*Note 1* We are not experts and the following instructions stem from our personal experience. Follow at your own risk.
*Note 2* The direction packets that come with the Alurack include instructions for every version they have of the rack per vehicle make. For example, included in the directions for the Ford Transit Alurack are instructions for the 130, 148, and 148 extended wheelbases AND for low, mid, and high roof. Make sure to circle or highlight your instructions before beginning for easy reference throughout the installation.
In a clean area, lay out the contents of the Prime Design Alurack boxes and check to make sure you have all of the contents. The contents for each box are located in the direction set that comes inside each box. Yes, there are three instruction booklets. And yes, this is important as we were actually missing one washer. It’s also good practice to have a snack so you don’t get hangry as you begin!
Get scaffolding or ladders set up next to the van on both sides. Locate the eight holes covered by stickers for the roof rack. On the Ford Transit, they are the ones indented on the major support beams. Remove the stickers with the pliers and the plastic scraper. I used my fingernail to get under the beginning, then the pliers. Karma preferred the plastic scrapper to get an edge up. We did this on a warm day in the sun, so the stickers came off ok without too much effort. One put up a fight, but it was no match for the pliers in the end. If it’s colder out, a heat gun will assist you well here to loosen the stickiness.
Once you have removed the stickers, clean the area with rubbing alcohol or acetone and a cotton swab to remove the sticker gunk.
The second hole from the front of the van on the driver’s side had a slight issue. We saw this happen in a YouTube video for another roof rack install. Basically, the sticker hole did not line up with the screw hole underneath. Since the alignment was only slightly off, we opted to use a metal file to shave off just enough that the bolt could screw in without interference from the roof sheet metal.
Grab the “Mounting Kit” instructions and flip to the correct section for your van and rack. It’s the thickest of the three instruction packets. For the High Roof Ford Transit 148 wheelbase, it’s page 16.
Use the anti-seize goop on the M8 bolts. This shit is messy. Wear gloves and work clothes when using it. I swear it tries to jump off the bolts towards clothing. Grab the foam pads and the channel mounting brackets. Make sure to place the channel mounting brackets the correct direction and then screw them into the holes on top of the van.
Once you have installed all eight channel mounting brackets, grab the mounts and more anti-seize goop. Line them up according to the picture and goop up your M8 bolts as you go. Add the goopy bolt to a flat washer and screw them into the mounts.
This part is pretty straight forward. However, make sure that the extender piece in the back and the main mount butt up to one another. Also, double check that they’re even on both sides of the van.
Next, pick up the six mounting brackets to which the crossbars will eventually attach. These attach in a specific way, according to the directions. Think of these in the shape of a capital F. An M8 bolt will go through the bottom part of the F into the sidebar. On the FRONT of the van, the bottom of the F points backward. On the MIDDLE and BACK of the van, the bottom of the F points forward.
Attach these six mounting brackets loosely with a locking washer and a flat washer. I say loosely, because you’ll probably need to adjust them based on where you put the heavy duty crossbars later. The diagram gives you the measurements it suggests between each bracket.
Begin to assemble the rack on the ground or on a workbench. First, assemble the side rails. This part was fairly straight forward, so I’m not sure why this needed its own separate packet. Just make sure you align the trapezoid correctly and use all the bolts.
Grab the strip nuts and slide them into the side rails. You’ll need as many strip nuts as you have crossbars + the roller bar. Do this for both side rails.
Add the roller brackets using a cap head bolt and a locking washer. We found it helpful to use the long end of an allen wrench to align the strip nut with the roller bracket (as well as for the crossbars).
Next, place the crossbars in order between the side rails and double check that you have enough strip nuts. Pages 4 & 5 of the Crossbar Module Instructions include the best suggestions of where to place which crossbars and the distances between them. The Ford Transit 148 wheelbase, long length, high roof is “Ford Transit L3H3.” This does not totally make sense because technically, the long length would be L2. However, Prime Design starts at L2 and goes to L4 in this diagram. Why? I have no idea.
Originally, we followed the pattern laid out in the diagram, but knew we would shift it later. Why shift it later? We knew that we would need to adjust for our MaxxAir Fan and later for our solar panels.
Once you place in the crossbars, attach them using a cap head bolt and a locking washer. Again, if you’re having trouble aligning the hole into the strip nut, use the long end of an allen wrench. Add the roller bar last by inserting the roller tube pin into the roller ends and inserting that into the roller bar brackets. We left the roller bar off because we don’t need it.
Grab a buddy or two and hoist the assembled rack up and on top of the van. It’s definitely helpful to have multiple people for this part. We used some 2x4s to help us shimmy it up and over.
Align the rack’s heavy duty crossbars with the mounting brackets. You may need to loosen the side bolts for the heavy duty bar to slip in and the bracket to clamp on it. Check the suggested distances again before tightening and then tighten. Make sure the distances are the same on both sides. Then tighten the bottom of the F on the mounting brackets.
Wait overnight before using lap sealant. We tarped over the rack to have less moisture on the roof from fog.
Why wait overnight? We found that the bolts holding the channel mounting brackets to the van could each turn about a quarter turn extra after waiting a night. The foam pads decreased under the weight of the Alurack. Plus, if you wait overnight and begin lap sealant the following day, it will dry better when exposed to a full day of sun.
After waiting for the morning sunshine, apply lap sealant around the channel mounting brackets and on top of the bolts attaching them. We used Dicor Lap Sealant.
We found that after a full day of drying, it self-leveled well and we wanted to add a second coat the next day.
As you get your solar panels or other roof accoutrements, adjust the bars as needed. We found this fairly easy after having assembled the rack ourselves. Hidden in the directions, there is an * that says customers can adjust the crossbars as needed. However, they do not recommend more than 24 inches between the crossbars and the roller bar.
After completing this project, it seemed fairly straightforward overall. However, during the project we had to consistently refer to the not-so-great instructions and a few videos that were also not-so-great. I hope these directions can add to the direction packets that come with the rack.
So far, we have not noticed any rattling while driving or wind whistling. It has held on well. I will add a review after we have used it longer. If you’ve had experience with this rack, drop a comment below if you have anything to add! Cheers!