I’ve come to love my Honda Element more than any previous car I’ve owned. The fact that I can pull out the back seats and use it to haul all sorts of things is awesome, but sometimes things still don’t fit, and need to go on the roof. The one advantage my Honda CR-V had was a roof rack, but luckily the Element was designed with a roof rack option in mind, and a DIY version is pretty simple.
This forum post got me started in the right direction, and gave me a template to use. There were also a few useful YouTube videos on DIY roof racks that helped a bit…
I used the PDF template to create my own template in Inkscape and then printed it on paper, which I found to be less than ideal in getting the holes precisely lined up, so I did what I often do…
I turned to 3D printing. I took the SVG file and exported it to a DXF that I could pull into OpenSCAD and extruded into a 2.5D shape. From there I printed a nice (solid) template that I could use to drill the holes for the pieces that would hold up the rack.
The parts that hold up the rack are some scrap pieces of HDPE plastic, which is very solid and resistant to wear from the elements. The template worked great (with a drill press) for making the needed holes. There’s a 6mm bolt that holds everything in place. Yeah, I ended up just using one bolt instead of three on each piece, so in the end the template didn’t matter as much.
I didn’t use stainless steel bolts, so I expect they may rust out, and I might replace them. The main reason was I bought a bunch of bolts from Bolt Depot in various lengths because I didn’t know which I would use. Now that I know the length I should probably replace them. I also used Aluminum washers which are left over from using a hole saw to drill out button holes from guitar pedal enclosures. (Long story!)
The rack itself was just some square steel tube I got from Speedy Metals. It’s 1-1/4″ SQ x 1.084″ ID x .083″ Wall, BTW. (I ended up painting the tube black with an enamel paint, which was supposed to stand up to the elements but has done a terrible job and the metal has rusted quite a bit since these photos were taken.) I’ve been told grill paint or marine paint might work better. At this point I’d need to pull everything apart and sand off the rust if I want to make things look better. (Which means I probably won’t.) The other nice thing about getting the square tube from Speedy Metals was that I was able to just have them cut them to length, so I didn’t need to cut the metal precisely.
The other piece for the roof rack are the end pieces. Yes, they are green instead of orange or black, but that’s due to the filament I had loaded into the 3D printer at the time…
Amazingly enough, they are printed in PLA and have held up quite well through one winter and one summer. They didn’t melt in the summer or get destroyed by the cold and wetness of winter.
They are not held in place as securely as I’d like, and are easy to remove, but they’ve stayed in place without falling out for over a year now. I should really print some replacements in another color… though it does make it easy to spot my car when other orange Elements are nearby.
So how does it work? Well, it’s a roof rack, and it works fine. If anything, I’d consider raising it a bit higher, and to be honest, I think I use it a lot more frequently when I need to tie down the back window when hauling things that stick out the back, which is good enough for me. In total the cost with the square tube, hardware, and paint, was probably around $30, which is a lot cheaper than a roof rack purchased.