Monday, April 11, 2011

Vanagon Westfalia Roof Rack Installation: Yakima and Alternative Parts

All Vanagons models equipped with a pop top (Westfalia Multivans, "Weekenders," and full campers) require some additional parts and labor to install a Yakima roof rack system. Yakima towers are designed to either attach to an automobile's existing factory rack, which the Vanagon does not have, or to the rain gutters that run the length of the roof on both sides.  The Vanagon does have rain gutters, but utilizing them would place the towers below the pop top and prevent it from opening.  The solution is to install "rain gutter" brackets on the the fiberglass pop top.

Gathering the Parts
I searched the internets high and low for a good deal on the necessary Yakima Wide Body Bracket (8008001). No such deals existed.  I finally broke down and bought two sets for a painful $36 each on Amazon. These mounting brackets, fortunately, were my only full-priced purchase in this budget roof rack project.

Yakima 1A Raingutter Towers mount to the faux gutters created by the brackets. I found a set for $40 on craigslist, complete with lock cores! The retail price for the towers and locks is $215, so this, like the Vanangon itself, is definitely another CL success story.

Next, I needed to find the crossbars. Vanagons require at least Yakima's 58" version, which retail for $70. Yakima crossbars are simply 3/4" galvanized steel pipe with a pvc coating.  I knew that I could buy 10' of 3/4" galvanized steel pipe at Home Depot for $12, which left me pondering whether plastic coating was worth an additional $58.  I think not.  I went with 10' of pipe and the friendly staff at Home Depot cut in half at no cost, leaving me with two 60" steel crossbars. The end caps are free.

1. Determine your rack placement. I decided to mount the rack at the very rear of the van, where the connection points (of the pop top to the van) are strongest.  There's no perfect placement.  You might decide to mount them as far back as possible (which I didn't quite do), as GoWesty suggests. I placed the front and rear brackets so the bars would be spaced 36" apart, ensuring maximum compatibility with Yakima rack add-ons. Mark the holes. Measure twice, drill once.

2. Drill the holes. The pop top must be up (at least partially) for this step.  I held a flat piece of wood against the inside surface to prevent the drill from plunging through the canvas. I first used a 1/4" bit, but switched to the 5/16" for the last three brackets.  The slightly largely holes made it much easier to find flush placement for the screws.

3. Install the brackets using the provided Yakima screws, washers, and nuts. I used a clear indoor-outdoor, all-weather silicon caulk around the holes on both the inside and outside of the camper top to get a watertight seal.

4. Follow Yakima's instructions to install the 1A Raingutter Towers to the Wide Body brackets. NOTE: If you're going with my cheaper, alternative crossbar setup for the Yakima racks, you'll need to shim the bars at the mounting points to the towers. A few wraps of electrical tape gave me a perfectly snug fit.


  1. great article on just what I wanted to find info on. We want to add a rack to ours. Thanks for the tips and article!


    Here is our blog:

  2. Berg, your good at the blogging thang!!! Can't wait to read more about the travels!

    Do you have it set up to facebook/tweet/etc. when you post?

  3. good infos for installing an alternative roof racks for your van . I hope to read more of your articles

  4. Great idea using the 3/4" pipe. I always wondered if the pipe stock that Yakima used was anything special. Now I know it's not. I have a set of A1 towers waiting to be used and now I have a Syncro to put them on. Instead of the galvanized pipe, I chose the black pipe. The wall thickness is thicker, i.e., stronger pipe, and it was a couple of bucks cheaper per 10' length. The disadvantage is more prone to rust and heavier. The potential for rust didn't bother me because I went to the next step of covering the pipe. I work for an electronics assembly company and found out we have scrap stock of 1.5" diameter heat shrink tubing. This material comes in 125' rolls. The HST will shrink down to .75". After shrinking this material on to the pipe, I measured the final O.D. against the Yakima O.D. and they are the same. Only had to pay for pipe, about $30.

    1. Great idea, Dick! How do you apply heat to the shrink tubing? I've never used it before. Thanks for the update!

    2. Heat gun. Won't need anything bigger than a 500 watt gun. Check amazon. Something like this would work fine